Thursday, August 15, 2013


Michael Cormick and Julie Lea Goodwin

Free Rain Theatre.

Canberra Theatre until 23rd August

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The thundering organ, the crashing chandelier, Christine and the Phantom in a fogbound candlelit boat in the bowels of the opera house, all make their appearances in Free Rain theatre’s much anticipated production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Phantom of the Opera”.  Producer Anne Somes has mined considerable resources to come up with an impressive production that captures much of the spectacle and excitement of perhaps the most successful musical ever written.  

Central to the success of the production are the thrilling performances of the two principals, Michael Cormick and Julie Lea Goodwin. Cormick’s "Darth Vaderish" Phantom prowls the stage zapping anyone who gets in his way in a wildly melodramatic, superbly sung, performance.
Julie Lea Goodwin as Christine Daae 

 As the beautiful Christine, the object of the Phantom’s passion, Julie Lea Goodwin matches Cormick both vocally and melodramatically to portray the woman torn between her fascination of the Phantom and her love for her fiancĂ©, Raul, (David Pearson).

Under the deft direction of David Harmon, the large local cast of singers, dancers and actors provide strong support with stand-out performances from Tony Falla and Michael Moore as the theatre managers, Christine Wallace as the fiery Carlotta and Bronwyn Sullivan as the mysterious Madame Giry.
Julie Lea Goodwin as Christiine Daae and dancers in "Masquerade"

Startling pyrotechnics, impressive lighting and special effects, colourful costumes, and a set design which allows the smooth transitions between the many scenes, together with a stunning orchestra under the direction of Ian McLean, combine to make this must-see production a triumph for all concerned.
                          This review appears in the August 15th  print edition of CITY NEWS


Gabby Dobson and Lara Goodridge
Capital Jazz Project – The Street Theatre

Friday 9th August.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

So French, so chic and oh so entertaining “Baby et Lulu” made an impressive Canberra debut with their eclectic program of French salon and cabaret music. Baby et Lulu” of the title, refers to two glamorous and engaging chanteuses Gabby Dobson and Lara Goodridge  (who’s also an accomplished violinist), leading a quartet of superb instrumentalists in which Marcello Maio is on piano and piano accordion.  Matt Ottignon vacillates between flute, saxophone and clarinet, while Julian Curwin plays guitar and Mark Harris is the bassist.

Together they work their way through a diverse repertoire of French songs, mostly sung in French with the occasional English lyric. Dobson and Goodridge sing tight, imaginative harmonies enhanced by exceptional musical arrangements that are as varied as the songs. When they sing solos, the other contributes moody backing vocals, and sometimes, in Goodridge’s case, beautiful violin backings. Occasionally the band members join in with backing vocals as well.

Each song is given exactly the right instrumentation to create the intended mood, often refreshingly unexpected, as in the swinging rendition of Cole Porter’s “C’est Magnifique” or the particularly lovely setting of the Piaf song “The Three Bells”. Original songs by both Dobson and Goodridge sat comfortably in the mix, as did Gabby Dobson’s haunting French version of her Leonardo’s Bride hit “Even When I’m Sleeping”.

Between songs the mood is relaxed and jovial with amusing cod-French banter being exchanged between the group, but the moment the music strikes up, complete attention is focussed on the song and its delivery.  This is a class act, which ticks all the boxes and a superb addition to the exceptional line-up on offer during the 2013 Capital Jazz Project.  Typically the sound for this concert was excellent, and The Street Theatre deserves a bow for the meticulous presentation of the acts in the festival which has been an outstanding contribution to the Canberra Centenary Celebrations.   
                              This review appears in the digital edition of CITY NEWS



Stella Wilkie 

Former long-serving Canberra Critics Circle member, the late Stella Willkie was honoured in the "Memoriams" sections of the 2013 Helpmann Awards Ceremony held in the Sydney Opera House on 29th July.   Stella died in January 2013 aged 88 (See Helen Musa's obituary elsewhere on this blog)

                                                              Posted by Bill Stephens .

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Phantom of the Opera

Directed by David Harmon.

Musical Director Ian McLean.

Choreographer Jacquelyn  Richards.

Free-Rain Theatre Company

Canberra Theatre
August 10 -23

Canberra Times review

Alanna Maclean

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Zombie film producer outlines realities

Daniel Sanguineti
As part of the Canberra Critics’ Circle ongoing winter “In conversation…” series, on Tuesday, August 6, the critics met Canberra independent film producer, Daniel Sanguineti.

Daniel, who has  a Bachelor’s Degree of Communication in Media and TV Production and is completing a Masters in  Creative Writing,  has been a filmmaker for nearly ten years after previously working for a regional Australian television broadcaster. He now runs Sanguineti Media Pty. Ltd. which is a Canberra based, family-owned independent film and video production company  specialising in online content and TV commercials, as well as documentary and narrative films.

With two current projects in the Zombie Horror movie category,   “Theatre of the Dead,” directed by Patrick J. Gallagher and “Me and My Mates Vs the Zombie Apocalypse,” scripted and directed by 21-year-old Declan Shrubb, he had much to tell the assembled critics about how to get financial backing for a film.

Given that most of the critics present were from the theatre panel, the differences  in the scale of funding, the lead-time and the complexities of judging the target audience for film production were explored. Other questions related to the considerable involvement of ScreenACT in the second project.

Daniel outlined the increasing importance across the arts  of crowd-funding.

The next “In conversation…” session will be with pianist- improviser Elaine Loebenstein.

Helen Musa

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Australian Dance Awards 2013

Held at The Playhouse
Monday 5 August 2013
Reported by Samara Purnell 

The Australian Dance Awards were held on Monday night with a bevvy of local and interstate dance identities attending. Sequinned dresses and stage kisses were everywhere on the “night of nights” on the Australian dance calendar, where attendees were treated to performances by the West Australian Ballet, Ghenoa Gela, Broome dancer Dalisa Pigram and a lively number from “Candy Man” to name but a few.

Andrea Close hosted the evening, presented by Ausdance and Harlequin Floors, overseen by Artistic Director Ruth Osborne, with multimedia by Bearcage.

Winners were presented with a beautiful glass trophy created by artist Matthew Day Perez.

A Welcome to Country from Paul House followed by a performance of QL2’s “Hit thefloor together”, choreographed by Bangarra’s Daniel Riley McKinley kicked off the night and footage shot at landmarks around Canberra and showcasing local talent set the tone for the evening, held in Canberra for the first time in this, its Centenary year.

Ronne Arnold was this year’s recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Born in Philadelphia, Arnold came to Australia in 1960 to perform in “West Side Story” and subsequently made Australia his home. He worked as a performer, choreographer and teacher, before founding the Australian Contemporary Dance Company. He developed a love and admiration for indigenous dance during this time and currently works at the Wesley Institute of Arts as a teacher.  

In his acceptance speech, Arnold said “This – dance – is what I was born to do” and spoke of how proud he was to have a dance company in Australia. He also said that he was told that if he ever wanted to get money from the Government he’d better put “Australian” in the name of the company - advice he took on board.  

The Ausdance Peggy van Praagh fellowship grant was presented to Kay Armstrong, to pursue her mid-career choreography.

“Eight to Eighty” won Outstanding Achievement in Youth or Community Dance, and a visibly moved Jackie Hallahan, of the Canberra Dance Development Centre, was presented with the award for Services to Dance Education.

Rafael Bonachela was awarded for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography, for Sydney Dance Company’s “2 One Another” which he said was “Purely inspired by the dancers”.

Sue Healey received the award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance on Film or New Media for her feature length documentary “Virtuosi” before Tap Dogs Creator Dein Perry accepted the award for Outstanding Performance in Musical Theatre or Commercial Dance on behalf of The Company, now in their 19th year.

Shane Carroll was awarded for Services to Dance and despite a declaration that “I don’t exactly know what I do”, she extended her thanks to a “Great bunch of do-ers”.

Force Majeure entertained the audience with a snippet of its physical theatre before “Black Project 1” saw Antony Hamilton win Outstanding Achievement in Independent Dance.

Ex-Canberra dancer Paul Knobloch co-presented the award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Dancer to Charmene Yap for “2 One Another”, who, somewhat speechless, accepted her award moments performing an excerpt from “Project Rameau” with The Sydney Dance Company, in a highlight of the evening. “Project Rameau” will be seen in its entirety in Canberra in September.  

Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer was taken out by Kimball Wong for his “science defying” work in “Proximity”. The category was hotly contested by Daniel Riley McKinley for Bangarra’s “Terrain”, Chen Wen for “2 One Another”, Paul White – “Anatomy of an Afternoon” and James O’Hara for the Australian Ballet’s “There’s definitely a Prince involved”.

Dr Alan Brissenden AM was inducted into the Hall of Fame by presenters Robyn Archer and Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet Company, David McAllister AM, in recognition of his distinguished services to the dance profession. He has decades of dance criticism and scholarly writings to his name.

Dr Brissenden regaled the audience with stories from his extensive theatre experiences and travels, including the first ballet he saw with his wife, Elizabeth, in 1959. He asked whether his induction to the Hall of Fame could mean that “the pen was as powerful as the pointe shoe”.

Dr Brissenden joins previous inductees including Graeme Murphy and Ross Stretton.

The final award of the evening was to the Sydney Dance Company’s “2 One Another” for Outstanding Performance by a Company. Rafael Bonachela and dancers, in varying stages of undress, having just performed, accepted the award.

The night concluded with an entertaining and energetic performance by Phly Crew with a rockabilly – b boy style routine, which got everyone toe-tapping and primed for the afterparty.

The full list of nominees was:

*Dancenorth for Small Dance//Big Stories
*fLing Physical Theatre for The idea of South
*Steps Youth Dance for TRY HARD
*Tracks Dance Company for Eight to Eighty - Architecture of Age

*Dancenorth & Raewyn Hill
*Jackie Hallahan
*Vicki Thompson

*Rafael Bonachela for 2 One Another [Sydney Dance Company]
*Kate Champion for Never Did Me Any Harm [Force Majeure and Sydney Theatre Company]
*Anouk van Dijk for An Act of Now [Chunky Move]
*Antony Hamilton for Black Project 1 [Antony Hamilton Projects]
*Frances Rings for Terrain [Bangarra Dance Theatre]

*Richard Allen for Monk: Reloaded
*Peter Greig for Sharing Spaces: A Day In The Life
*Sue Healey for Virtuosi
*Claire Marshall for Pulse

*Leah Howard for Mary Poppins
*Sian Johnson for A Chorus Line
*The Company for Tap Dogs

*Shane Carroll
*Geoff Cobham
*David McAllister AM
*Michael Pearce

*Antony Hamilton for Black Project 1
*Sue Healey for Variant
*Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal for Opal Vapour
*Lisa Wilson for Lake

*Sue Peacock for Harakiri [STRUT Dance]
*Rachel Rawlins for Swan Lake [The Australian Ballet]
*Vivienne Wong for Warumuk – In the dark night [The Australian Ballet]
*Charmene Yap for 2 One Another [Sydney Dance Company]

*Wen Chen for 2 One Another [Sydney Dance Company]
*Daniel Riley McKinley for Terrain [Bangarra Dance Theatre]
*James O'Hara for There's Definitely a Prince Involved [The Australian Ballet]
*Paul White for Anatomy of an Afternoon [Martin del Amo and Performing Lines]
*Kimball Wong for Proximity [Australian Dance Theatre]

*Australian Dance Theatre for Proximity
*Australian Dance Theatre for Be Your Self
*Bangarra Dance Theatre for Terrain
*Sydney Dance Company for 2 One Another

A variation of this report appeared on the City News website on 6 August 


Street Theatre until 11th August.

Sunday 4th August reviewed by Bill Stephens

Although the 2013 Capital Jazz Project kicked off auspiciously on Friday night with the John Mackey Quartet performing the world premiere of Mackey’s “Canberra Centenary Suite”, my first opportunity to sample the offerings came last night when, along with an impressive number of other adventurous Canberrans, I arrived at the newly extended Street Theatre.  .
Marvelling at the artfully- lit paper spheres suspended from the ceiling in Street One, I settled down for the first program, by pianist  Joe Chindamo and violinist, Zoe Black. Having admired their stunning recording “Reimaginings”, on which they brilliantly re-interpret popular classical and classic jazz compositions, I was a little fearful that they might disappoint in the flesh. I needn’t have worried because their program, which commenced with their unique version of Puccini’s “Nessum Dorma”, followed by Chopin Prelude, was sheer bliss.  They could have played the phone book; such was the inventiveness of their variations, which often become so complex that it was sometimes difficult to remember what tune they were reimaging. This was a sublime performance by two consummate musicians and certainly one to be relished.
Then into the delightfully reimagined Street Two, now decked out trendily with pretty chandeliers and little black chairs, for a performance by the 2012 James Morrison Jazz Scholarship winner, Liam Budge, accompanied by brilliant young pianist, Tate Sheridan. Although they presented an agreeable selection of jazz standards and original material I found my ability to enjoy Liam Budge’s work severely compromised by his distracting facial contortions, silly body gyrations and total disregard for the meaning of the lyrics. Hopefully these are a passing phase, in which case, Mr. Budge could well become a very good jazz singer.
The final concert for the evening was a performance by the extraordinary Tawadros Brothers who specialise in the Arabic lute and Egyptian tambourine. They teamed with electric bass player Steve Hunter to charm their audience with an intoxicating mix of mostly Middle Eastern music, brilliantly arranged and performed. An unexpected highlight was a delightful Q & A with doyen Barbara Blackman, seated in the front row, which suggests Joe Tawadros could possibly aspire to a second career in stand-up.  

(An edited version of this review appears in the August 14th - 20th edition of  CITY NEWS )

Monday, August 5, 2013

Into the future— “In conversation with Jack Lloyd”

Jack Lloyd
The third Canberra Critics’ Circle “In conversation with…” session for winter, 2013, was held on Tuesday, July 30 in the Boardroom at Canberra Museum and Gallery.

Jack Lloyd is a performer, writer and digital video artist who holds a Bachelor of Arts (Digital) from the Centre for New Media Arts at the ANU, specialising in digital video production and interactive digital media.

He works as operations manager at Belconnen Arts Centre and was previously Technical and Production Officer at Tuggeranong Arts Centre, where he produced DVDs on the Fresh Funk Dancers, the "Indigiglass '08-Postcards from the Referendum" project and "Young Gungahlin -Through Our Eyes", focusing on  Mariana Del Castillo's mural project. He also hosted The Young Independent Filmmakers Award.

Jack is also a founding method of Boho,  a Canberra theatre company specialising in audience-driven narrative, presenting interactive cross-art form performances to festivals, theatres, science conferences and schools including the Brisbane Under The Radar Festival, the Asia-Pacific Complex Systems Conference, the Adelaide Fringe Festival and TEDxCanberra.
While  some of the critics’ questions were addressed to the day-today practicalities of getting shows on and digital films made, much of  this “conversation" took a leap into the future as Lloyd  introduces the circle  to possible  scenarios, limits, parameters and potential directions of  interactive  arts in the digital and Smartphone age. 
Helen Musa 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

TOSCA - Giacomo Puccini

Opera Australia – Sydney Opera House 6th July – 31st August 2013

Performance 16th July 2013 reviewed by Bill Stephens

Alexia Voulgaridou as Tosca
Yonghoon Lee as Cavaradossi
Photo: Prudence Upton
John Bell has devised a highly dramatic production of Puccini’s "Tosca" which he has set in Mussolini’s Italy during World War 11. The setting works remarkably well. Michael Scott-Mitchell has designed towering stage settings, particularly for Act 1, and the stunning Greek soprano Alexia Voulgaridou makes an impressive Opera Australia debut in the role of Floria Tosca.

Alexia Voulgaridou as Tosca
Yonghoon Lee as Cavaradossi
Photo: Prudence Upton
Voulgaridou is fascinating in the role, with an idiosyncratic acting style that takes a little getting used to. Skittish, even irritating, in the first act, as indeed Tosca should be, she’s a diva after all, by the time the opera reaches the second act, when she makes her entrance in a beautiful gown designed by Teresa Negroponte, she is spellbinding.  It is enthralling to watch her bargain with Scarpia, a magnificently loathsome John Wegner, when her body language is at odds with what she is actually saying.

Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee, also in his first Opera Australia performances, is convincing as the young, passionate artist Cavaradossi with a clear ringing Italianate tenor sound. David Park is impressive as Angelotti in the first act, where John Bolton, as the Sacristan, is a lesson in how to make the most of a small role.

 As you would expect from John Bell, all the special moments are beautifully staged, and he has provided particularly strong visual endings for each of the three acts, particularly the final act when the audience is left gasping at the sight of Tosca hanging lifeless from the barbed wire parapet. Special icing on the cake was provided by conductor, Christian Badea who ensured his orchestra was in absolute simpatico with the mood of the production.

John Wegner as Baron Scapia
Photo: Prudence Upton
This production runs at the Sydney Opera house until the end of August, but on the 4th August, Sheryl Barker will take over the role of Tosca and Diego Torre will be Cavaradossi, and it will be fascinating to see them both in this production.

Of particular interest to Canberra audiences is the fact that Canberra Symphony Orchestra conductor, Nicholas Milton will take over the conducting of “Tosca” from 4th to 31st August.

John Bolton Wood (centre) as the Sacristan
Photo: Prudence Upton 
(An edited version of this review was broadcast In 'DRESS CIRCLE"  on Artsound FM 92.7 on 21st July 2013)


DON PASQUALE - Gaetano Donizetti

Opera Australia – Sydney Opera House July 18 to August 15th 2013

Performance 18th July 2013 reviewed by Bill Stephens

Ji Min Park (Ernesto), Rachelle Durkin (Norina)
Samuel Dundas (Dr Malesta), Conal Coad (Don Pasquale)
(Photo: Branco Gaica) 

What a little gem is this new production of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale”. Director Roger Hodgman has set the action in sunny Italy in the 1950’s; with plenty of visual references by designer Richard Roberts to the 1953 film “Roman Holiday”. Though “Don Pasquale” has nothing to do with “Roman Holiday”, it works a treat.

Rachel Durkin (Norina)
Conal Coad (Don Pasquale)
Photo; Branco Gaica

Rachelle Durkin is thoroughly delightful as the conniving Norina, wickedly funny and hilariously infuriating as she effortlessly tosses off sparkling cadenzas in all directions. She is given terrific back-up by Ji-Min Park as her petulant lover, Ernesto and Samuel Dundas as the handsome notary Dr Malesta who assists them in their plan to trick Don Pasquale into a sham marriage.


It would be hard to imagine a better Don Pasquale than Conal Coad in excellent voice and despite being the butt of most of the jokes, never misses a laugh. Benjamin Rasheed rounds out the cast with a fine performance as the Notary.
(An edited version of this revue was broadcast in "Dress Circle" by Artsound FM 92.7 on 21.7.13)


Opera Australia – Sydney Opera House - June 29th to July 23rd 2013

Performance 17th July 2013 reviewed by Bill Stephens

Svetlana Vassileva as Leonora
Photo: Prudence Upton

The sheer grandeur of Tama Matheson's vision for his production of Verdi’s “The Force of Destiny" is what impresses most. Death is everywhere, even in the skull-like makeup of some of the characters, but the opera never gets depressing, as we follow the trials and tribulations of Leonora and Don Alvaro from their wealthy Spanish homes, through the battlefields of the Spanish and Italian armies to caves above some god-forsaken monastery, with no hope a happy ending in sight.

The opera is a long sit, running from 7.30pm until 11.15pm on the night I saw it, but there is never a dull moment as Mark Thomson’s great set-pieces fly in and out, armies appear and are dissipated before our eyes, and masses of gorgeous costumes abound, ranging from magnificent Spanish court wear to dusty peasant’s rags.  

Svetlana Vassileva as Leonora
Photo: Prudence Upton

The singing is exquisite throughout, with the beautiful Bulgarian soprano, Svetla Vassileva quite stunning as the doomed Leonora, superbly matched by the handsome Italian tenor Riccardo Massi as her lover Don Alvaro. Italian bass Giacomo Prestia also impressed as the dignified padre Guardiano and Jonathan Summers was a wonderfully menacing Don Carlo. It was also fascinating to see Rinat Shaham, fresh from her magnificent turn as “Carmen” in the Handa Opera on the Harbour, adding her magnificent voice and presence in the usually small role of the gypsy Preziosilla.

(An edited version of this review was broadcast in "Dress Circle" on Artsound FM 92.7 on 21.7.13)

Richard Anderson as
Svetla Vassileva as Leonora

Svetlana Vassileva as Leonora
Riccardo Massi as Don Alvaro
Photo: Prudence Upton


Saturday, August 3, 2013


QL2 Dance and Quantum Leap

Canberra Playhouse

31st July – 3rd August.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

During his remarks at the reception following the premiere performance of “Hit The Floor Together”, QL2 patron Sir William Deane offered the opinion that “this was the best Quantum Leap production yet”. In that assessment he would get little argument from me, because although Quantum Leap have offered many remarkable performances previously, with “Hit The Floor Together”  they have raised the bar significantly in terms of execution, presentation and technical support.

Conceived as a special Canberra Centenary Year event,   “Hit The Floor Together” is centred on the theme of inclusiveness between indigenous and non-indigenous young people. The usual Quantum Leap dance ensemble of young dancers from the ACT and surrounding regions has been augmented with dancers from NAISDA Dance College, Kurruru Youth Performing Arts in Adelaide, as well as from Queensland, regional NSW and even Thailand.

The task of exploring these themes in dance terms with 45 young dancers was entrusted to three professional choreographers, Daniel Riley McKinley, Dean Cross and Deon Hastie, of whom both Riley McKinley and Cross had started their dance careers with QL2.

Each of the choreographers created a separate piece for the production, which was   presented without an interval and preceded by a short beautifully- filmed prologue to set up the theme, and a concluding finale, both created by Ruth Osborne and Adelina Larsson.

 The first segment “Where We Gather”, choreographed by Riley McKinley, was the most cohesive and impressive, clearly displaying the growing confidence of his choreographic skills and why this young choreographer is attracting such attention in the dance world.  His choreography, though deeply rooted in what we recognise as the indigenous dance style, with its bent knees and sloped shoulders for the men, graceful flowing movements and downcast eyes for the women, featured impressive floor work, sensitive partnering and imaginative transitions between movements.  His choreography made no concessions for the varying abilities of his dancers, who rose to the challenge magnificently.  Strong manly movements for the men contrasting with gentle complex choreography for the women wearing flattering earth-coloured skirts, resulted in many memorable moments in a superbly realised work which would be a source of pride for many professional dance companies.

Although it also contained imaginative moments, Dean Cross’s “Bloom” took a more conventional and episodic approach to the theme of inclusiveness. Drawing on the natural exuberance of his dancers, Cross created an energetic and  entertaining work which commenced with the dancers in an inclusive circle, from which they formed kaleidoscopic shapes which broke into more frenetic movement. Highlights included a lovely passage where the dancers used their hands to suggest the ebb and flow of sea anemones, and a charming spoken sequence where two dancers simultaneously, but in different languages, described their coping mechanisms.

For his work, “Storm”, Deon Hastie chose the dramatic possibilities of contrasting the aftermath of the energy released by a violent storm to that of an angry mob to create a fast-paced abstract work which contained plenty of opportunity for the dancers to display their physicality, especially in the well-staged fight sequence.

Central to the success of each of the works was the extraordinary quality of each of the technical production elements, always a hallmark of QL2 presentations.  The subtle, flattering costumes of Christiane Nowak; the remarkable series of  atmospheric soundscapes created by Adam Ventura utilising an extraordinary variety of sounds  which were physically felt as much  as heard.  The imaginative stripped-back set design by Suse Ilschner which provided an excellent space for dancing, and when enhanced by Toby Knyvett's dramatic lighting, the ever-changing abstract visuals by Bearcage Productions, and the physical presence of dancers when they were not actually dancing, created a mysterious and ever- changing environment for each section of the performance.

Apart from being hugely entertaining, "Hit The Floor Together" is a wonderful example of excellence in youth dance, a glowing endorsement of the efforts of QL2 Dance and Quantum Leap in establishing the National Capital as a leader in this field, and a significant contribution to the success of Canberra’s Centenary Year Celebrations. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

“Hit the Floor Together”

QL2 presents Quantum Leap
The Playhouse
31 July – 3 August
Reviewed by Samara Purnell

(image from QL2 website)

For the Centenary production from QL2, past Quantum Leapers-cum-choreographers Daniel Riley McKinley and Dean Cross with choreographer Deon Hastie came together under Ruth Osborne’s direction to produce “Hit the Floor Together”. It was an exploration in finding connectedness and a common vision despite individual differences, cultures or backgrounds, in particular those between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth.

It was a nice idea to start the performance with a short film by means of an introduction to the dancers and especially to formalise the importance of and reference to shared land, although it missed the opportunity to maximise the impact of the incredible light and landscapes around Canberra.

After this, moving images continued, inoffensively, to be projected above the dancers in the first piece – McKinley’s “Where we gather”. By the time kaleidoscope-style projections were being used in the second piece, audience commentary was that it was more of a “screensaver” and not essential to the performance.

McKinley bought a challenging style of choreography to his piece – pulsing, earthy, identifiably Indigenous routines, that required execution over the entire bar of music, often “popping” at the end but exploring fluidity and smoothness between beats. At times this clearly required more experienced dancers to really get the most out of it, such as was demonstrated recently in McKinley’s choreography in Bangarra’s “Blak”.

Sophisticated and particularly beautiful, was when girls in the stand-out costumes of long skirts, that had been dyed using coffee and clay, were partnered by the male dancers. Earnest intensity and concentration were on display against the backdrop of an ethereal soundscape. This softness was contrasted by the guest dancers (developing artists) from NAISDA, who added maturity, strength and professionalism to the performance.

Strong female performances stood out this year, including those of Amanda Lee, in her fifth QL production and Rika Hamaguchi, but as in past productions, the timing between various dancers was, in portions, significantly out.

A more introverted look at self and identity, foremost as a human as opposed to a race/age/sex was explored in “Bloom”, choreographed by Cross. This piece was well catered for the younger or less experienced dancers and included large numbers of the cast – not an easy task. It was upbeat and energetic, set to electronica beats. At times the piece became about exploration and expression as a dancer and self-discovery at the detriment of entertaining an audience made up of more than parents and friends. It also had a certain “Rock Eisteddfod” feel about it. Snippets of information garnered from the dancers were incorporated, which amused the audience, and Cross has done well to maintain a flow of movement given the large group.

Deciding to reveal the entire stage and backstage area – kept a “theatre production” look, which was juxtaposed with some of the topics but challenged the dancers to remain in character for the duration of the show. In “Storm”, Hastie’s contribution, “off-stage” dancers maintained an aggressive intensity as tension built towards a testosterone fuelled clash between duelling mobs. Hastie challenged the dancers with lifts and leaps and it felt as if the production was building to a crescendo but the “resolution” in the fall out, fell flat and again became more about introversion in self rather than the idea of “togetherness”.

Once again it was exciting to see young men allowed the freedom to express themselves through dance, with Alex Abbot, Casey Natty and Ryan Stone amongst the featured dancers, alongside newcomer Caspar Ilschner.

The choreographers spoke of this experience as a realisation of past goals and dreams, and with composers Adam Ventoura and Reuben Ingall (another ex-Leaper) it felt like a big family reunion.

This was more sophisticated and abstract than some previous performances, but left the feeling of waiting for the knock-out punch that didn’t come. It was a brave undertaking and well executed with enthusiasm and excitement that was clear to see.